Do you have a fearful dog who isn’t food motivated? If your dog won’t eat treats around new people, there are changes to your training setup, including to the behavior of the humans involved, that can help.
Last week we discussed why dogs sometimes refuse food, and gave practical tips for increasing distance between your fearful dog and strangers in training sessions. A dog who is most motivated to keep themselves safe is unlikely to be motivated by food. If you can increase the distance between your dog and strangers, they are likely to be more motivated to eat. If your dog is eating, you can use food in positive reinforcement training!
But proximity is only one piece of what makes strangers scary to your dog. This week, we talked about human behaviors that scare dogs, and what we (or our visitors) can do instead.
Scariness Factors and Alternatives
In this week’s video, we discussed human behavior “scariness factors” that can decrease a dog’s food motivation:
1) Facing the dog head-on: Being “squared up” to a dog can be intimidating for them. Pay attention to where your belly button and nose are pointed. If you’re working with a scared dog, face your body away from the dog a bit- say, at 90 degrees.
2) Staring at the dog: A direct stare is scary stuff to most dogs. Avert your gaze and avoid eye contact with fearful dogs. Keep an eye on them out of the corner of your eye, and with brief glances.
3) Reaching toward the dog: Fearful dogs often find hands reaching toward them frightening. Instead of reaching, keep your hands to yourself. Don’t try to feed the dog by hand.
4) Bending over the dog: If you (or your visitor) are already facing away, not staring, and not reaching toward the dog, you’re less likely to bend over them. Do pay attention to your body position if you’re throwing treats to the dog, however. If you find you’re bending at the waist toward the dog, change your treat delivery technique so that it doesn’t require that bend. I show some examples in the video of ways to toss treats without bending.
If you try some of these strategies to increase your dog’s interest in food around strangers, or if you have questions, we’d love to hear from you! Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or comment below.